So What is Safe and Healthy Dance Practice?

Obviously, we at SiDI use those terms all the time, but what are we actually talking about?  Are we the health and safety police?  Do we want to spoil dancers’ fun?  Do we want to stop people taking artistic and creative risk?  Definitely not!

Lots of people think of “health and safety” as a set of policies that are put in place to protect workers – necessary but also maybe restrictive and stifling.  But healthy and safe dance practice is so much more than industry rules and regulations.  It’s the best way to reduce injury risk and to enhance performance.

There’s no getting round the fact that dancers get injured. Injury rates are high in our profession.  So what can we do to minimise the risk of becoming injured without limiting the scope of what we want to do as creative, imaginative beings?  How can we apply new knowledge to optimise performance and help dancers get the most out of their dancing?  In the 21st century, there is now the research potential and the technology to move beyond tradition and thoroughly interrogate how we dance, looking at more effective ways to approach learning and practice.

This isn’t just about making sure that we have a safe, warm space to work in with a good, supportive floor and knowing where the first aid kit and the fire exits can be found.  The principles of safe practice are more substantial than these simple fundamentals.  They deal with the interplay of environmental, physical, and psychological factors that can have an impact on how effective our dancing can be and should be applied to all dance styles, all levels of ability or participation, and all age groups.

We can benefit from the greater understanding of different dancing bodies and how the needs of dancers change with their development, level of participation and the stylistic demands of an ever-growing range of genres.

If our own postural anomalies, or changes due to the specific demands of our dance style, result in deviations from anatomically effective alignment, we need to recognise this and address any possible negative effects.

We now know more about physiologically effective ways to warm-up and cool down, when and how best to stretch to recover and improve flexibility, and how to support our bodies with proper nutrition and hydration.

By understanding how to structure dance sessions from a physiological perspective, we can enhance dancers’ learning and experience, making it not only safer but more productive.

Communicating effectively will help to nurture a positive environment so that all dancers are respected and safeguards can be put in place.

Finally, those health and safety guidelines are important to protect people, including knowing how to prepare the environment in which we dance and to mediate risk with injury documentation and insurance.

SiDI says……

The more we know about safe and healthy practice, the more we’ll know about how the body (and mind) works, understand how much to push, be aware of why and how we need to recover and ultimately promote enjoyment, satisfaction and longevity in dancing.

By considering safe and health dance practice principles, we will be able to:

  • take into account the specific needs of different groups of dancing bodies
  • include a physiologically sound warm-up and cool down in our practice
  • recognise good functional alignment appropriate to our specific dance style and be able to strive towards it without pushing beyond individual capacity
  • understand why, when and how the different types of stretching can be used productively
  • encourage fit, well-nourished and healthy bodies that are ready to dance
  • balance workload and rest in our classes, rehearsal and schedules
  • foster mutually respectful relationships between dancers and dance leaders, using clear communication to ensure instruction and feedback is framed positively and appropriately.

Should I ice an injury?

Research in any field is constantly evolving and in time, the important findings will filter down to everyday practice. Recently in the popular press, several articles have suggested that putting ice on an injury may in fact have little beneficial effect or even delay the healing process. These suggestions aren’t new – we’ve known for some time that the evidence for the effectiveness of cryotherapy (cooling of injured tissue by ice application) on muscle injuries is limited. The question mark is over whether we should interfere with the body’s natural response to injury (inflammation) by trying to reduce it.

Looking at the responses in the literature, there are mixed reactions. Some researchers state that as much of the research was done on animal subjects (mainly anaesthetised mice following induced soft tissue injury) we should be wary of simply transferring the findings to the human body. Also, there may be differences in the response of different types of tissue (muscle, ligaments, tendons) to cryotherapy. All of the researchers advise that much more investigation into the potential positive and negative effects of ice is needed.

So, what do we advise for dancers? In the light of these research studies, should we abandon our recommendations for dancers to use the PRICED procedure (Prevent/Protect, Rest, Ice, Compression/Elevation/Diagnosis) immediately following an injury?

SiDI says……

  • Don’t suddenly stop using ice altogether, but follow recommendations more carefully rather than simply grabbing an ice pack and using it as a quick fix “solution” when something hurts.
  • Limit the application as directed as there is some evidence that prolonged use of ice may have detrimental effects. Use ice immediately following an injury (the first 24-48 hours) to initially slow down the blood flow to the area and limit tissue damage but make sure that the ice is not applied for longer that 20 minutes (less for some injuries) so that the body’s natural healing response can take over to remove waste and excess fluid. Ice can be re-applied after about 60 minutes, but again, limit the number of re-applications.
  • As applying ice usually means you need to stop dancing and sit down, simply thinking about icing will encourage rest and prevention of further injury. Ice also has a pain-relieving (analgesic) effect.
  • Don’t return to dancing following application of ice and don’t use ice to numb pain so that you can continue working!
  • Take advice from your therapist as to how the application of ice will affect your specific type of injury in the short and long term. This implies that you have followed the PRICED recommendations and taken action to get a diagnosis, something that, for several reasons, dancers are often reluctant to do!


Bleakly, C., Costello, J.T. & Glasgow, P.D. (2012). Should athletes return to sport after applying ice? A systematic review of the effect of local cooling on functional performance. Journal of Sports Medicine, Jan 1;42(1):69-87.

Bleakly, C. & Davison, G.W. (2010). Cryotherapy and inflammation: evidence beyond the cardinal signs. Physical Therapy Reviews 12; 15(6).

Caldwell, C. (2001). Dance and dance injuries. Chichester, England: Corpus.

Comfort, P & Abraham, E. (2010). Sports rehabilitation and injury prevention. Chichester, England: Wiley and Sons.

Quin, E., Rafferty, S. & Tomlinson, C. (2015). Safe dance practice: An applied dance science perspective. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Russell, J.A. (2010). Acute ankle sprain in dancers. Journal of Dance Medicine and Science, 14(3), 89-96.